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Alopecia areata is a health condition that causes hair loss. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. In this case it’s attacks your hair follicles.
Alopecia barbae is a specific form of alopecia areata that affects the beard. Usually, it comes on suddenly and you begin losing beard hair in small circular patches.
Alopecia barbae is an autoimmune condition where your hair follicles are attacked by your own body, causing patchy hair loss.
Commonly, hair loss occurs in small circular patches, often along the jawline, though you may lose all of your beard hair. The hair loss can be isolated to your beard, or it can occur in other places, such as your scalp or face.
While the exact causes are unknown, often psychological and physical stress are linked to alopecia. Genetics may also play a role: It’s more common in those related to someone with alopecia, asthma, or allergies.
Having relatives with an autoimmune condition puts you at a higher risk of developing alopecia barbae. These include type 1 diabetes, lupus, and psoriasis. Certain viruses, substances, or medications can also be triggers.
It’s not easy to predict how alopecia barbae will develop. Hair loss can come on suddenly, within a few days, or over a few weeks.
Bald patches occur in small circular patches about the size of a quarter. As more hair is lost, these circles will sometimes begin to overlap. Hair around the edges of these patches may also be white.
Your skin may feel itchy and painful before you lose your hair. Usually, the visible skin is smooth, though it can feel rough. Some people experience redness, irritation, and inflammation in the bald spots.
Exclamation mark hairs — hairs narrower at the bottom — sometimes grow in and around the bald patch.
A doctor or dermatologist can diagnose alopecia barbae. Sometimes this can be done by looking at your hair loss and samples of your hair under a microscope.
You may need to have a scalp biopsy or a blood test to test for signs of an infection or an underlying medical condition, including an autoimmune disorder. You may be tested for other conditions that can cause hair loss, such as fungal infections or thyroid disorders.
While there’s no cure for alopecia barbae, you can treat and manage your symptoms.
With treatment, hair may grow back and remain, but it’s possible that it could fall out again. Several years can pass between recurrences. It’s also possible for your hair to grow back partially.
Your hair may grow back the same as it was before, though it has the potential to grow back in a different color or texture. Sometimes it doesn’t grow back at all.
Different treatments have varying results depending on the individual. This can depend on how much hair loss you have, your age, and other factors.
The aim of these treatments is to block the attack of the immune system and to stimulate hair growth. In general, treatments are more effective if you’ve lost less than half of your hair.
Several different medications can be used to treat hair loss on your beard, including:
- Corticosteroids. These are anti-inflammatory drugs used to suppress the immune system. Usually, they’re applied topically or given as shots.
- Minoxidil (Rogaine). This is a topical drug used to treat pattern baldness. Twice a day, the medication is applied to the affected area as a liquid or a foam. Results can be seen after three months.
- Diphencyprone (DPCP). This medication can be applied to bald patches. It causes an allergic reaction characterized by redness, swelling, and itching. This is thought to trick the immune system into sending white blood cells to the surface of the skin to reduce inflammation and keep the hair follicles active. Results can take three months.
- Anthralin. This is a cream or ointment often used to treat psoriasis. The tar-like substance is applied to hairless patches once a day and left on for 30 minutes to up to a few hours. It irritates the skin, promoting hair growth. Results are usually visible within 8 to 12 weeks.
There are also home remedies you can use to treat hair loss in your beard. Much of their effectiveness against alopecia barbae is anecdotal, but they may be worth a try, depending on your condition.
The natural healing properties of garlic may be useful in improving symptoms of alopecia barbae.
While there isn’t research specifically for alopecia barbae, a small 2007 study found that garlic gel was effective in treating alopecia areata.
People who used the garlic gel along with a corticosteroid cream showed significant improvements compared to the group who only used the corticosteroid cream.
This is a natural supplement containing marine extracts. It promotes hair growth in people with thinning hair when taken over a period of at least six months.
It works by regenerating new cells and strengthening existing cells. Research is anecdotal in terms of treating alopecia barbae, but other studies have shown it to be effective in promoting hair growth.
A study from 2016 examined the effects of a similar marine complex supplement. When taken for six months, the supplement was shown to promote hair growth and decrease shedding in men with thinning hair.
Zinc and biotin supplements
Following a healthy diet that includes vitamins and minerals necessary for hair growth is important. Adding supplements to your diet can give you a boost of zinc and biotin, which can promote hair growth and prevent hair loss.
Cleveland Clinic experts recommend a daily mega-B vitamin that includes 30 milligrams of zinc, 3 milligrams of biotin, 200 milligrams of vitamin C, and < 1 milligram of folic acid.
More research is necessary to determine the effectiveness of other natural options for hair loss, including:
- aloe vera
- castor, coconut, or almond oil
- lavender, rosemary, and geranium essential oils
- fish oil
Having alopecia of the beard isn’t cause for concern in terms of health, but emotionally it can have an impact. Hair loss has the potential to be challenging, particularly if you start to lose hair in other places.
Whatever your concerns may be, remember that they’re perfectly normal. Try to experience these emotions or feelings without judgement. Be gentle with yourself during this time.
If it’s affecting your mental health, consider seeing a therapist or joining an online support group. A supportive, professional environment may help you to deal with what you’re experiencing.
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has support groups all over the world. These groups provide a safe, trusting, comfortable environment for you and your loved ones to share and learn from personal experiences in dealing with alopecia barbae. You’ll learn how to deal with and overcome challenges that accompany this condition.
If you find that alopecia barbae is affecting your quality of life or you’d like to figure out what’s causing it, see a dermatologist or doctor. They can assess the severity of your symptoms, determine if there are other underlying causes, and come up with an appropriate treatment plan.
Here’s a list of questions that you may be asked or want to ask at your appointment.
Alopecia barbae won’t put your health at risk, but it can be difficult to deal with emotionally. Experiment with different treatment options to see if one of them can offer you an improvement or solution.
Since this condition can be challenging, set up your life so you’re taking care of yourself in the best way possible. Take measures to increase your feelings of well-being and create a healthy lifestyle.